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Elusive WS ring a common theme for HOF class

Jones the only member of 2018 electees to hoist championship trophy
MLB.com @castrovince

NEW YORK -- Between the four of them, the newly named members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America-elected 2018 Hall of Fame class have but a single World Series championship -- and it came in Chipper Jones' rookie year.

So these four illustrious individual careers came largely while in elusive pursuit of the game's greatest team prize, which led to perhaps the most interesting question posed to Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman at Thursday's Hall of Fame news conference at the St. Regis New York.

NEW YORK -- Between the four of them, the newly named members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America-elected 2018 Hall of Fame class have but a single World Series championship -- and it came in Chipper Jones' rookie year.

So these four illustrious individual careers came largely while in elusive pursuit of the game's greatest team prize, which led to perhaps the most interesting question posed to Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman at Thursday's Hall of Fame news conference at the St. Regis New York.

If you could trade your ticket to Cooperstown for a World Series trophy, would you do it?

Hall of Fame coverage

"I'm glad I don't have to answer that one!" Jones exclaimed while wrapping his arm around Thome.

"Yeah," Thome replied, "because you guys beat us [in 1995]!"

Video: Join the HOF Class of 2018 as they tour New York

It was, of course, an impossible question to answer honestly and publicly. But the thoughtful way Thome, Hoffman and Guerrero -- all of whom were still pinching themselves after the Wednesday evening phone call letting them know the BBWAA had indeed elected them -- handled the query was a little window into what makes these men special people, in addition to special players.

"This is such a special day," Thome said. "I don't think you envision going in [to the Hall of Fame] as a player. But you do envision winning a World Series. We were fortunate to be in the arena twice in Cleveland. We came up short in '95 to the Braves and in '97 to the Marlins. Being in the arena, I wouldn't replace it. It's something you will never lose sight of -- is what it meant to prepare all winter and then finally be introduced in the World Series. It's just the ultimate. … Today is a special day, but I can only envision what it would have been like to win a World Series."

Video: Thome thankful for all of HOF support after election

Added Hoffman, who reached the World Series once with the Padres in 1998: "I think you selfishly prepare and you unselfishly become a teammate. Both [the Hall of Fame and the World Series] are pinnacles in our game. Giving your best allows you to have that opportunity."

Rather than dwell on the defeat he and the Rangers endured at the hands of the Giants in 2010, Guerrero expressed only thankfulness for the opportunity to have played on the Series stage.

"This is a time where I want to thank the Texas Rangers," he said through interpreter Jose Mota. "They allowed me to stay in the game and get to the World Series."

Video: Hoffman discusses his favorite Minor League moments

Jones didn't have to tackle that particular question, but he of course knows well how fickle October can be, having been a part of 12 division-winning ballclubs in Atlanta -- but only that one club that won it all. So what we can say with great certainty about the newest crop of Cooperstowners is that the hunger to win it all was what drove them to individual glory.

"We immerse ourselves in the game," Jones said. "All we do is try to be one-ninth of the equation that helps us win a ballgame."

It's fair to say that each of these four players ultimately made up more than one-ninth. Theirs were outsized contributions borne not just out of raw talent but what Thome likes to call "sweat equity" -- that old adage about how you get out what you put in.

There is no easy path to the dais upon which Jones, Thome, Guerrero and Hoffman sat on Thursday. Yes, Jones was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 Draft. But how many players from that premier, high-pressure position make it to Cooperstown? Thus far, Ken Griffey Jr. is the only other. And for that matter, Jones is just the 17th third baseman to reach the Hall -- the lowest total of any field position.

Video: Chipper and Thome on the lack of 3B in the HOF

If it's hard to make the Hall from the No. 1 overall pick, think how difficult it is to get in after getting taken 333rd overall, as Thome did. He was drafted in the same round of the 1989 Draft as eventual NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, for Peete's sake.

If Thome's path was unusual, Hoffman's was doubly so. He was a converted shortstop -- and not because he had an electric arm but because he somehow developed one of the greatest changeups in the history of the game.

And then there's Guerrero -- the first Hall of Fame position player from the Dominican Republic, where some of his earliest "bats" were tree limbs from guava trees and "gloves" were sometimes made out of milk cartons.

Video: Guerrero thanks Rangers for WS opportunity

Persistence, consistency and longevity were the keys to these careers, even if World Series glory was fleeting, at best, and nonexistent, at worst. What matters most about these men is not how many championship teams they were on but what great teammates they were, for their efforts often inspired others and their outcomes rightly wowed the BBWAA electorate.

"You see the numbers but you don't see the struggles," Thome said. "You go through so many failures in this game. I think about longevity, and you look at the iconic players in this game ... Longevity creates an opportunity to get into the Hall of Fame. You're blessed and fortunate to play 19, 20 years, then it's you guys [the writers] who get the opportunity to select us for a day like this."

In the end, that big question posed was too big to answer directly. But judging by the smiles of the men at the podium, this was a day they would not trade for the world. Or the World Series, as it were.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.